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Hume Studies Volume 28, Number 1, April 2002, pp. 168-171 DABNEY TOWNSEND. Hume's Aesthetic Theory: Taste and Sentiment. Routledge Studies in Eighteenth Century Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 2001. Pp. χ + 258. ISBN 0415233968, cloth, $85.00. Although one might reasonably ask whether the explicit references to taste, beauty, and deformity, scattered through Hume's writings really amount to an "aesthetic theory," both the ubiquity of the language and the apparently unself-conscious way in which Hume employs it, provide good food for philosophical thought. Perhaps, one might speculate, there are systematic connections between the aesthetic dimension of Hume's thinking and his approach to epistemology and morals for which he is better known. While many have gestured towards such a possibility, and a substantial body of work has grown around Hume's celebrated essay "Of the Standard of Taste," it is only with Dabney Townsend's Hume's Aesthetic Theory: Taste and Sentiment that a book-length study has been devoted specifically to this theme. The work should thus be of great interest to Hume scholars, aestheticians, and students of eighteenth-century thought more generally. As is clear from the outset, the relative dearth of inquiry into the place of aesthetics in Hume's overall system does not deter Townsend from proposing a strikingly bold thesis. Townsend claims not only that there is "substantial aesthetic material embedded in Hume's major philosophical works," but that this "implicit aesthetic is crucial to a better understanding of the way that Hume deals with those central philosophical problems that occupy him" (1). As a bonus, the reader is promised a "needed corrective to Hume being read as a problem-poser or proto-naturalist," and an example of how to make "a historical figure like Hume relevant to our time" (2). All this is to be accomplished , Townsend assures the reader, by taking a "middle way" between a sensitivity to the eighteenth century context of Hume's work, and acceptance of the unavoidably anachronistic tendencies embedded in "our knowledge of the subsequent history of aesthetics" (2-3). Townsend sets out on the historical part of this adventure in the company of Shaftesbury. This union is advertised as the most suitable way to understand how Hume breaks with the past and comes to make "sentiment evidential," bringing beauty and taste, that is, within the purview of his epistemology (13). One would have thought of Addison and Hutcheson as more natural brothers-in-arms, but Townsend opts for Shaftesbury since (presumably ) in the latter's Characteristics he sees a way of illustrating both Hume's debt to his predecessors (an emphasis on the "place of the passions") as well Hume Studies Book Reviews 169 as a contrast for his "radical" departure from them ("only passions can move us to action" [18; see 25, 33]). The historical jaunt continues in chapter two where the theme of Hume's specific intellectual debts gives way to a lively and informative history of "taste." The reader follows the term from its Aristotelian roots as a "modification of touch" (49), through its development under Renaissance tutelage into a way of apportioning praise and blame (52ff.), to life as an eighteenth-century term of art. Via the pens of Shaftesbury, Berkeley , Hume, and Du Bos, Townsend shows how "taste" forged conceptual ties to diversity, individuality, and personality, maturing finally into a fullblown metaphor for approving judgments that display delicacy and discrimination, and condemning their opposites (62ff.). In chapter three—"Hume's Appeal to Sentiment"—Townsend crosses from the historical side of his "middle way" to the more contentious claims concerning the "implicit aesthetics" without which, the reader is informed, "Hume's philosophy fragments into a series of problems, none of which can be understood consistently" (87). Townsend attempts to support this thesis by bringing Hume's aesthetics into the same philosophical universe as his epistemology: Hume's theory of ideas is central, Townsend urges, because both knowledge and the appreciation of beauty reduce to the same "fundamental problem," namely, how a "psychological entity—the mind—through its own actions construes a world" (87). Forging a link in this way, Townsend sees impressions and ideas as a "foundation for the aesthetics of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 168-171
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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